Study Guide

The Odyssey Principles

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Frankly, trying to keep up with the list of dos and don'ts in ancient Greece is enough to make us want to lie down with an US Weekly and a can of Diet Coke. Whether you're fighting your enemies, hosting some guests, herding some pigs, or burying your companions, there's a right way and wrong way to do it. But for the characters in the Odyssey, living up to their standards—and the standards of the gods—is a matter of life or painful, humiliating death.

Questions About Principles

  1. How does a man win honor in the Odyssey? How does a woman?
  2. What characteristics define honor in the ancient Greek tradition, at least as far as you can tell from this epic?
  3. Why do Elpenor's wishes about his burial have to be heeded? What kind of glory does he win by having Odysseus give him a proper burial? Isn't he already dead? Who cares?
  4. Is "honor" a human concept in the Odyssey, or one handed down from the gods?
  5. Why does Odysseus' lack of compassion and mercy for the suitors prove not to be a blow to his honor?

Chew on This

Odysseus is obligated to avenge himself on the suitors in order to restore honor to his house.

In the Odyssey, women can only win honor by what they don't do, not by what they do.

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